Of the three or four things that all human beings require in order to survive, rest always seems to be the first one thrown out the window.
I'm more familiar than I would like to admit with the groggy morning showers, the mid-afternoon energy slumps, and the lashing out at others in the name of stress and exhaustion. Young people, especially young people in college, seem to be at the center of this lack-of-sleep epidemic. (Maybe I feel this way because it's the world that I live in, or maybe because it's simply true.) My friends and peers at Sarah Lawrence, while extremely unique and different from each other, seem to always have one common trait: we are tired.
The source of this tiredness is, of course, our busyness and, for young people at least, our desire to continue doing more and doing better. That desire isn't inherently bad; it speaks to our passion and commitment to changing the world and being the best at what we do. Striving for excellence has led the world-changers of the past to be just that: world-changers. This excellence is a good and honest goal, especially when spread across the many disciplines, subject areas, and interests of my generation. It's the striving that I'm not so sure about anymore.
The one course that has taught me the most at Sarah Lawrence is the one in which I've done the least. For the past two years, every Tuesday morning, I have hidden away in a sunny room on the top floor of our theatre building with my favorite professor while my classmates and I have learned how to stop trying. This class is a part of my theatre program, yes. It's branded as a movement class (although we don't do much moving) but it has taught me much more about my heart and my mind than about how to create art onstage or how to use my body efficiently (though the class has taught me those things as well).
In this course, I've finally learned and internalized that I don't need to work so hard. None of us do. Separating the passion I have for doing the things I love and am called to do with excellence from the tense, teeth-gritted striving makes all the difference. Nothing that I have ever done with painful, begrudged labor has been half as rewarding or excellent than the things I have simply allowed and trusted. Work is not evil. Work is rewarding, shaping, and strengthening.
Forceful, tense striving, however...again, I'm not so convinced.
After the stress and exhaustion of this year of school, my body and my mind have needed some time to actually put what I've been taught in this class for the past two years into practice. So, for the last few weeks I've been resting with intention. I've been feeding my body and my soul with the things it has needed but lacked for so long: exercise, sunlight, good stories from books and movies, sleep. And I've finally flipped the scale of importance from being productive to simply being whole.
On the first day of summer vacation, a friend of mine asked me to share with her my goals for the break. I was taken rather off-guard; in completely honesty, I hadn't really thought about it. Or, at least, what I had thought about didn't seem like a goal that was worth sharing. The goal I had is simple: I promised myself that this summer I would not do anything that I didn't want to do. I would take care of myself, love myself, and rest. I would remove the pressure of all the "I should..."s that had weighed on me all year, and I would let my body and my heart feel what they wanted to feel and do what they wanted to do. I would feed my soul with the sleep, the stories, and the nourishment that it needs. I would feel strong again, because I would be focused solely on being whole.
I have since made other goals for this break, of course. But most of the new goals are in service of this first goal, this promise I made to myself in mid-May.
I know my time of rest can't last forever; in just two weeks, I'll be heading to North Carolina for an internship where I'll be working every day for five weeks straight. And this time of rest really shouldn't last forever. The need for productivity will return once again when I'm put under the pressure of a new school year, a new job, and the ominous promise of life after graduation.
But, every once in awhile, a brief pause, an intermission, for rest is absolutely necessary, even if only just to remind us that we do not need to strive and that being whole is truly the most important thing.